While there may be debate as to who exactly they are, it seems pretty clear to me where they are. Those “coming out of the great tribulation” might specifically refer to believers martyred after the opening of the fifth seal (Rev. 6:9) or, generally speak of all believers who have suffered through trial while on earth. Either way, I think I’m on solid ground when I think that their experience recorded in Revelation 7 is but a glorious “spoiler alert” of heaven for all who, one day, will be absent from the body and present with the Lord.
Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 7:15-17 ESV)
Here’s how William MacDonald summarizes the blessings which are theirs:
Perfect nearness: They are before the throne of God.
Perfect service: They serve Him day and night in His temple.
Perfect fellowship: He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.
Perfect satisfaction: They shall hunger nor thirst anymore.
Perfect security: They will never again be struck by searing sun nor scorching heat.
Perfect guidance: They will be led to springs of living water by the Lamb Himself
Perfect joy: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
And what grabbed me this morning, as I hovered over this insight as to the current experience of those who have “gone before”, was the Shelter and the Shepherd.
He who sits on the throne will dwell among them, He will shelter them with His presence. Literally, He will tabernacle among them. He will pitch His tent over them. And that tent will be the awe-invoking, face-to-the-ground-compelling, worship-illiciting glory of His presence.
However strong the sense of His presence here on earth has been, when faith gives way to sight, that presence will be tangible . . . unavoidable . . . and altogether delightful. We will bask in the radiance of His emanating glory. Though He never leaves the throne, He will ever cover us. The resplendent rainbow that surrounds the throne (4:3) will be light upon our face. The flashes of lighting, and the rumblings and peals of thunder, that come from the throne (4:5) will be music to our ears–an irresistible invitation to join all those under the shelter to declare the holiness and worthiness of our God.
And if heaven were only about such shelter, that would be more than enough.
But there is also the Shepherd–the Lion of the tribe of Judah who we will behold as a Lamb, “as though it had been slain” (5:6). Our Redeemer in the midst of the throne–the One worthy to “receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (5:12). And He will be our Guide. Not only welcoming us into Divine presence, but leading us to springs of living water. The Source of eternal life will be the Shepherd for eternal life.
He will tend His flock. Furnish them with pasture. Supply every need of their eternal souls. Fulfilling His promise that He would give them life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).
Shelter and a Shepherd. The experience of those who have “fallen asleep” in Christ.
Shelter and a Shepherd. The hope of those who remain, known even now, though dimly, by faith through the Spirit who indwells us.
Shelter and a Shepherd. The promise of eternity.
By His grace. For His glory.